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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Serious Railroad Sniffing

 I had to go to Fountain this morning, halfway to my section of trail anyway. The ground is still dry, and this morning, also frozen (18 degrees) which turned out to be a good thing. Exploring that railroad berm just called to me. This is the picture I showed you on Thursday. On this picture the RR is yellow and the trail is blue.

Manistee and Luther Railroad spur

My sense is that it's a spur of the Manistee & Luther RR, which operated from 1885-1913, for only 28 years. This seems short, but it was actually the longest operating line of R.G. Peters (local folks have probably seen interpretive signs about his railroads at Nordhouse Dunes). But I haven't actually connected it up yet. If it is, this spur does not show on the only map of the M&L route that I have. I've recreated parts of that map here, so you can see it in relation to the trail.

The yellow lines are the known M&L routes. It's a fact that it followed 9-Mile Road from Eastlake, all the way beyond 9-Mile Bridge, and then at some point left the road and continued south of Dublin and farther east to Hoxeyville, the eastern terminus of the main branch. This route even shows on old topo maps.

The southern route crossed the Little Manistee River (seems to be west of the current 9-Mile Bridge, but I'm not positive about that because the map I have has a line about a quarter of a mile wide), angled southeast, and at Koenig Rd (FR 5331, Dead Horse Marsh Rd) split again. One branch angled ENE along what is now the aforementioned road, and also continued SE. This branch includes the lovely shaded rail bed just north of the Freesoil trailhead that I often show you pictures of (MI-836.5ish). This is the branch that may have actually reached Luther.

The purple line is what I found today.
partial map of the Manistee and Luther Railroad

So, what I did today was park on Tyndall Rd near where the known berm crosses the trail. Then I began bushwhacking. I knew that section might be hard to spot. I'd tried before. No dice. I wandered around without finding it and made my way to the known place where it crosses the trail. First picture above. Then I followed that berm.

It quickly disappeared. More wandering. Then I found it! Some sections were in cuts.
Manistee and Luther RR cut

Other parts were clear berms.
Manistee & Luther RR berm

It was places like this that I am glad the ground was frozen today. Here I could not walk on the berm because that is where the trees have grown, so I had to stay down beside it where I'll bet it's pretty wet at some times of the year.
Manistee & Luther Railroad berm

In other places, where the rails were laid at grade you could hardly tell where it had been. (straight ahead)
small pines in woods

Another piece made me glad it was dry and frozen. The route was overgrown with leatherleaf- a sure sign that there is water very near the surface.

Also plenty of sphagnum moss there- also a wetland species.

I continued northeast and then it turned slightly to the north and "ended" at a dirt road which I think is now private. I'm pretty sure that road was the old rail bed. My guess is that it continued north until it hit the middle route before that route crossed the Little Manistee River.

Then I turned around and followed it back to the trail crossing. I did manage to find the route that entire distance on the way back although it does become very unclear where I had lost it outward bound. So, how do you find an old rail bed? You've seen the cuts and berms. You know that railroads have to be close to level. You know that they can't make sudden turns. Here's another clue, and it helped me find that missing piece. The beds were made level by digging "borrow pits" along the way to get fill dirt. Even though this was built 150 years ago, you can still see a lot of those pits. I've circled a couple here in pink. But which clearish space is the rail bed? Yellow or purple? It was the purple one. I was aided by knowing the spot where I was headed, and I could also see some pits on the far side.
old railroad borrow pits

When I got back to the trail, I tried to continue south. I hadn't had much luck before, but those times it was summer and there was a lot of undergrowth. I was able to follow it today. I only went as far as my car. I need to go back one more time and make sure it connects with that southern line (the part that goes through the swamp). Then I'll be sure this was a Manistee and Luther spur. The M&L was a narrow-gage road (the rails were 3 feet apart) and hastily built. It was known for having lots of derailments and accidents. And yet, 112 years after the last rail car rode this route, I am able to follow its path through the woods!

Where it crosses the trail is near MI-835.5 What I walked today is in blue here. (Sorry about the inconsistent colors)
possible spur of the Manistee & Luther RR

Here is my Avenza track. I only walked about 3.3 miles, but remember I was semi-bushwhacking at best when I was on the route, and fully bushwhacking when I lost it and had to find it again. Unique miles followed on the railroad berm was about 1.5.
Avenza track

Total miles hiked in 2024: 116.6 of which 23.7 is North Country Trail.

Bushwhacking a spur of the Manistee & Luther RR. About 3.3 miles

See Couldn't stay inside

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